Temple Israel

Update: See Temple Israel’s new Modernist location out west. I revisited Temple Israel in November of 2020 in this post about Holy Corners.

The old Temple Israel synagogue is easily the most impressive Beaux-Arts building in St. Louis, even if it is certainly not the largest. Built on a grand scale according to the plans of Barnett, Haynes and Barnett in 1907, the synagogue is a perfect expression of Roman architecture.

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Based on the design of the famous Maison-Carree in Nimes, France, and inspired by the grandeur of the Temple of Mars the Avenger from the Forum of Augustus in Rome, the Corinthian order expressed in this building is stunning. Wait a minute, what the heck is a Jewish congregation doing building a synagogue based off the architecture of perhaps their most hated ancient enemies? Good question, but it seems that old battles were laid aside in the design of this synagogue.

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As can be seen above, the pediment of the synagogue deteriorated at some point on the sides, and was removed. Two crosses were clumsily added to the new brickwork on the corner. The congregation is alive and well in Ladue, and its new building is a landmark in its own right.

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I believe the sculpting on this building is the highest quality Corinthian order in St. Louis.

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The main portal is more Michelangelo than ancient Roman, but nonetheless that expresses its Beaux-Arts pedigree: ancient and Renaissance combined.

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Next door, a school for the synagogue is for sale; it functioned as a public school for a while but apparently that failed. I think an architecture firm might have moved in to a portion of the building.

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In the complementary Roman Ionic order, it certainly features some interesting, non-Roman details like the Star of David and the two Ten Commandment sculptures on the roofline.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Tom Bartholow says:

    I’m puzzled about the little faces or masks that punctuate the frieze — best seen in your picture #74 — just above the egg-and-dart. They look so much like Teddy Roosevelt.

  2. Kitty Landholt says:

    Two years ago, I was a temp for the architecture firm you mention in the building next door, HKW. At the time, they owned the building, having recently renovated it very respectfully to house their own offices and several other offices; I believe this was after the school moved out. I haven’t heard anything about them selling it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they simply want to turn over the ownership as it became a management burden in addition to running the firm. Their front conference room has a window looking east with an incredible view right through the center of the temple’s arcade. I’m sure this was no accident! I spent quite a bit of time during lunches looking out these windows at the temple and St. John’s across the street. Very excited to hear about the new development coming to some of these churches!

    If you’re interested to learn more about the synagogue community center renovation, there’s a project page with some before and after photos at hkwarchitects.com.

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